Buko juice: The next big thing!

- Boo Chanco -

There it is, the humble coconut water all set to be the next big thing in the world of beverages and we are not even in the picture. Yet, we should be. We are a coconut country and the coconut tree once upon a time provided copra, one of our biggest dollar earners. Now it turns out our entrepreneurs, big and small and our do-nothing government bureaucrats whose job it is to nurture the coconut industry all failed to see this great opportunity estimated to potentially be a $45-billion market.

I am talking of Buko juice… water from young coconuts. Buko juice can be that welcome shot in the arm for our ailing coconut industry. I was watching Venture on the Bloomberg cable channel over the weekend and found out that coconut water is probably the next big thing in beverages in the US market. Mark Rampolla, the entrepreneur being interviewed by Bloomberg, is the founder of a new beverage company promoting coconut water as a health beverage.

From what I heard in the interview program, it seems the coconut water market is ready to crack wide open. Apparently, the recent decline in the bottled water industry has left beverage companies eager to develop new products. PepsiCo and Coke, for example, have stumbled upon coconut water just because it is a popular beverage in Brazil and some Latin American countries.

But even before Pepsi and Coke, there are these small entrepreneurs like Rampolla the entrepreneur behind Zico, a leading brand of coconut water sold in tetra packs in the US. The idea came to him while he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Central America. He assembled a group of friends who came up with a million dollars to fund the product development and initial launch budget for Zico.

Buko juice is a beverage whose time has come. It fits in with the recent trends toward natural products with nutritional benefits. It has come on stage just as the demand for sugary carbonated sodas are showing sharp decline. I must be trendy without knowing it because I normally ask for buko juice in restaurants here because between that and a Coke Zero, it is the more sensible choice for a drink. But I am often disappointed because it is very often not available.

The market for coconut water is still small but growing fast. An article in the Wall Street Journal says “sales of coconut water doubled this year to roughly $20 million, estimates Beverage Marketing Corp., a New York-based research and consulting firm.”

“Although it’s a very tiny part of the beverage business, it’s growing fast because it’s seen as a natural product, it’s relatively low in calories and it has a lot of potassium,” John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest told WSJ. “Coconut water is on the brink of becoming significant.” I guess that means we can still catch up if we move fast.

The WSJ reports that coconut water is now attracting the biggest players in the beverage business. PepsiCo agreed to buy Brazil’s largest coconut water company, which makes coconut water brands Kero Coco and Trop Coco. Coke has bought a stake in Zico. The entry of the big guys in the field, a marketing official says, brings “legitimacy to the category,” and adds that “the rising tide will lift all boats.”

Zico, which is pure coconut water, is being positioned as the ultimate sports drink, better than such staples as Gatorade and Vitamin Waters, drink products that are heavy in sugar and artificial flavors. According to Mark Rampolla, Zico’s founder and chief executive who was interviewed on Bloomberg’s Venture, coconut water has gained high initial acceptance among the health conscious and sports buffs. The goal now is to broaden the appeal of coconut water as a replacement beverage for everyone.

Of course, we have known for years that buko juice or the clear liquid inside young, green coconuts is the natural, refreshing way to quench a thirst. And the best way to have it is straight from the tree. I have seen coconut water sold in its original natural packaging in Singapore but the shell trimmed for a more uniform look and ease of display on store shelves.        

Our forefathers knew the value of coconut water as a natural source of nutrition, wellness, beauty and hydration. In times of famine and war, coconut water has been used as an intravenous fluid and saved many lives. It’s the only natural substance that can be safely injected into the human blood stream. Now modern science has validated its effectiveness, especially as a natural sports drink.

In its website, Zico emphasizes the fact the coconut water contains the five essential electrolytes our body needs to keep nerves firing, muscles moving and to help manage stress. “One Zico has more potassium than a banana – 15 times more than most sports drinks – to prevent cramping and promote recovery.” Zico has low acidity, no fat, no sugar added, and no cholesterol.

Drinking coconut water before or during a workout provides the natural energy needed for optimal performance. After a workout, it replenishes and re-hydrates to speed recovery. All these benefits make it so much better than the colored sugar waters physical fitness buffs drink. It is also better than the sugary drinks most kids find in their lunch boxes. It can help prevent Type 2 Diabetes which is now a growing malady.

Other benefits Zico claims for coconut water include: Muscle performance; All-natural energy; Weight-loss aid; Heart health; Stress reduction; Skin, hair & nail health; Alkaline balance; Mental acuity; Kidney cleansing; Natural hang-over cure. No wonder we have known the coconut tree as the tree of life!

The value added the Zico entrepreneurs has given coconut water is the use of modern technology to maintain its amazing nutritional qualities and taste by using a new process called “flash pasteurization”. This enhances its shelf life as it protects the nutrition while keeping it safe from foreign and potentially harmful substances. On the other hand, the local packaged buko juice currently available suffers quality problems related to added preservatives and inability to stay fresh on retail shelves.

The sad thing I learned from the Bloomberg interview is that Zico looked at various regions for sourcing of the young coconuts. They will initially source from Brazil because they have economies of scale there. But they have looked at other regions including Southeast Asia. He named the prospective source countries in Southeast Asia but didn’t mention the Philippines. It was Thailand and Indonesia mostly.

How come we have not heard of this development sooner? We have agriculture and trade attaches abroad and no one reported this potentially welcome development for our coconut farmers. We have a large government bureaucracy devoted to the care and promotion of our coconut industry and they apparently missed the development too. As usual we are wasting precious tax money to support these do-nothings.

And there is of course, San Miguel Corp., where coconut farmers own a large stake. If there is one company that can launch a quick program to market coconut water as a healthful beverage here, it is San Miguel. It has the technical and marketing capability to do this.

Of course, selling buko juice is not as sexy as the large capital projects that San Miguel is now involved in. But this is one project it must undertake to help lift our farmers out of poverty and to save us, beverage consumers, from diabetes and other debilitating diseases from drinking too much sugared and carbonated beverages. San Miguel owes this to the coconut farmers and to us, the loyal consumers of their products for decades.

If San Miguel does not act quickly, those tetra packed coconut water drinks like Zico will eventually find their way here from the US. It would be ironic if we ended up paying royalty to Coke and Pepsi for a drink that we can best get straight from a coconut tree. Other than the “flash pasteurization” technology to package the drink which we will have to buy, we should really not pay for anything else because we already have everything we need to successfully market this drink within our country.

The world has discovered buko juice. We should ride on the trend. Not only is it more healthful than currently available beverages, it could also make a big difference in the lives of our people in the countryside.

Coconut tree

Speaking of coconuts in this typhoon season…

Q: What did the typhoon say to the coconut tree?

A: Lift up your nuts this is gonna be one hell of a blow job.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. This and some past columns can also be viewed at www.boochanco.com   

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